Taking the myths out of performance appraisals

Years ago, I was at a conference in Denmark. During a conversation with a senior friend and mentor, she asked about how I was faring as an early career academic on tenure track. I shared what I considered the highlights of the job and some of my struggles. Then she asked me a simple probing question: “How often do you meet with your department chair?”. My response to that question and the conversations that ensued revealed some of the false beliefs I had about performance evaluation. Up until that point, I used to meet with my supervisor once a year. Yes, you guessed right – during the mandatory annual performance review!. Like most professionals, I was ignorantly holding on to various career-limiting myths about performance appraisal process. The most shocking aspect was that I was ignorant of the impact of those false beliefs on my ability to thrive in my workplace. After that conversation, I studied more about best practices on performance appraisal and discovered that there are several myths about this process out there. Most stemmed from individual differences, negative experience in the workplace, cultural beliefs, leadership failures, societal perceptions, and so on. These mindsets could potentially put a dent on careers and even leave highly competent professionals in career ruts.

Let’s pause here a bit to discuss and debunk some of some of those popular myths about performance appraisals.

✅. Performance appraisal should be done annually.

Conversations about your performance with your supervisor should not only happen annually but more frequently.  Annual performance appraisal denies you the opportunity to receive constructive feedback and to course correct before the formal performance evaluation. A more frequent meeting with your supervisor (say at least twice in a calendar year) could help you gauge your manager’s perception about whether you are on track to meet expectations or not. This gives you time to course correct before the important annual appraisal meeting.  

✅. Decisions about my performance are made at the appraisal meeting. 

Folks who hold on to this myth often recommend that you advocate for yourself or fight for yourself with a goal to convince your manager about your productivity. The reality is that if you have worked with the same manager all year round, chances are that he or she has probably settled on a firm perception about your performance way before that meeting. In fact, your manager might have been evaluating your performance all year round, gathering 360-degree evaluations from team members and other colleagues in your organizations before reaching that conclusion. Understanding that the performance reviews do happen informally all year round could help you to proactively seize every moment to demonstrate productivity and excellent performance. 

✅. Performance appraisals is all about my technical competence and my job responsibilities. 

This false myth can be detrimental to career advancement, especially for introverts who may struggle with connecting and working with others. Career progression isn’t always down your technical competence alone, it also depends on your ability to work with others and be of value to your team. In most organizations, performance appraisals often include assessment of an employee’s technical productivity and 360-degree feedback from peers, team members, and clients. Focusing solely on technical productivity can only carry your so far, your ability to add value to others plays an important role in sustaining your career progress. 

✅. Performance evaluation is about salary increases, promotions, and annual bonuses. 

While a salary increases, bonuses, and rank promotions are part of the natural consequences of positive performance reviews, a commonly overlooked aspect of this process is the value of constructive feedback provided during this process. Insights from your supervisor and 360-degree evaluations about your strengths and weaknesses can inform appropriate action plans for improvement, exploration of appropriate professional development opportunities which may ultimately prove to be more beneficial than instant financial incentives.

✅. Performance appraisal process is biased; it’s all about favoritism. 

Favoritism of some employee(s) over others might occur in the workplace, creating perceived or real bias with respect to performance evaluations. However, buying into this myth may create a sense of helplessness while coloring your perception and belief in the performance review. Losing trust in the performance review process may leave a dent on your career, especially if you work in an organization dominated by bigotry, racism, and/or politicking. For example, believing that the performance evaluation process is rigged may discourage some from even endeavoring to proactive prepare, speak up, and advocate for themselves with their supervisors. Don’t fall for that trap.  

I cannot overstate how integral performance management is to career success. While the myths discussed here are not, by any means, an exhaustive list of myths about performance reviews out there, I hope you this discussion helps you reflect on notions and beliefs that informs your attitude and perception of the performance reviews in your work place. More importantly, I hope you can find a way to course correct and/or seek professional help where needed.